Preview: West Ham (Home)

Chelsea legend and favourite of the neutral Gianfranco Zola brings his out-of-form West Ham side to Eastlands on Monday for a televised tear-up between two clubs who ended last season only a point apart. After not winning in four since the high-profile cup defeat of rivals Millwall a month back, they'll be hoping to rediscover some of last year's good form on the road.

The Italian has done a superb job since taking the reigns last September. Many had tipped them to struggle after £35m of talent was moved on, including current City forward Craig Bellamy in an acrimonious £12m move up north. Zola, though, with the help of Steve Clarke, has transformed the team into a well-drilled unit who're well capable of giving anyone a game, and despite currently sitting in the relegation zone on only four points they should again finish comfortably mid-table if not challenge for a Europa League slot.

The key remains their solid spine, four England internationals who they've kept onto despite the financial position of the club sounding quite precarious. Rob Green, in the eyes of many, should be the first-choice national team 'keeper, and now seems to be getting his chance. Matt Upson has shed his 'injury-prone' tag and continues to be a calm head at the back. Scott Parker always impresses me and at times last season looked masterful in a defensive midfield role, and Carlton Cole has been transformed from unpredictable misfirer to a striker capable of causing problems for even the most seasoned centre-half in the land.

As with ourselves before our recent takeovers, the club have had to rely on their academy players to step up in light of a shortage of transfer funds. Mark Noble, sent off here last season, harshly in my opinion, might now be considered relatively experienced. The latest bunch to emerge look every bit as exciting as those in the mid-nineties. Jack Collison is a very tidy midfielder, and a full Welsh international. James Tomkins, already an England under-21 regular, a towering presence at the back, and Junior Stanislas looks extremely tricky and good for a goal. Zola's faith in these lads has already yielded some return, and the mix between proven domestic player, youth, and a sprinkling of foreign journeymen has worked surprisingly well.

On Monday they will be missing long-term wounded Dean Ashton and Luis Boa Morte. Upson, loanee Jiminez & Collison are all rated as doubtful but should play some part. Recent free transfer arrival Guillermo Franco, formerly of Villareal, could make an appearance, most likely from the bench. Valon Behrami, excellent last season before a serious injury during our 0-1 defeat at Upson Park in April, is expected to miss out after sustaining a back knock in the game versus Liverpool.

The fixture has in the past proven one in which we've generally taken the pickings, a Fredi Kanoute goal during a 0-1 win at Maine Road for the The Irons in 2003 being the only occasion they've taken three points from us on our own ground in recent memory, though they have inflicted a couple of cup defeats upon us, none more annoying than than the FA Cup quarter-final four seasons ago in which an Ashton double sent us packing when, unsurprisingly, we were once again certain our name was on the trophy.

We're expected to still be without Robinho, and Emmanuel Adebayor serves out the final game of his suspension for kicking Robin van Persie's face off. Stevie Ireland should play despite being the walking wounded at the minute, and Pablo Zabaleta is likely to continue at right-back in place of Micah Richards, who rumour has it was injured for the recent cup game against Fulham and not dropped. Roque Santa Cruz may make an appearance of sorts, but i'd have thought it unlikely he may get ninety minutes.

West Ham, for all they're well organised do play some nice stuff, they like to counter-attack like ourselves and it could make for a decent game. We've been looking shaky at the back of late and a fit and firing Carlton Cole could easily give Lescott and Toure a run for their money. We struggled to break down a very defensive Fulham midweek and it will be interesting to see if we can have a bit more of an impact in the final third, though we didn't do badly in that respect at Old Trafford last week. It should be a game we can go out and win, though, and i'm expecting us to come away with all three points.

Possible teams:
City: Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Ireland, Barry, Wright-Phillips, Tevez, Bellamy

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Collins, Upson, Parker, Noble, Collison, Diamanti, Cole, Jiminez

Prediction: City 2 West Ham 1

1 comment:

  1. I agree, West Ham will work hard, but City's quality will show and we'll take the points.